By Vishwamithra –
‘’Man, never made any material as resilient as the human spirit.’’ ~ Bernard Williams
It’s time that a debate of classical genre between freedom and discipline emerged in the socio-political spheres in Sri Lanka. Engagement of the country’s learned ones, academics, intellectuals, professionals and thinking politicians is an indispensable component for a lively, robust and a meaningful exchange of ideas, ideals and enlightening thoughts. It is not only essential that the participation of all shades of Sri Lankan thought be brought forward for a lively deliberation of content and processes, it is vitally significant that the participation of the free media in the country is sought for the success of the debate as those who are engaged in the trade of dissemination of information to the public are often the victims of a regime that practices draconian rules, regulations and physical thuggery and intimidation.
But it is important to find out as to who is preaching that discipline is more important than freedom as mere concepts or functional and organic mechanisms of governance. Pundits, more often than not, would argue as to the conceptual significance of freedom and discipline. But when it comes to the day-to-day practice of the real substance and processes, both freedom and discipline get enmeshed in an unforgiving chaos of human folly.
When ill-informed would-be politicians get entangled in the process of high-sounding concepts, they invariably resort to their usual exercise of sloganeering. They fail to see beyond the slogans; they refer to these concepts as if they comprehend the inner meanings of the concepts. They never read; their understanding of modern developments of age-old practices is limited to simplistic interpretations of complex concepts. Yet they succeed in the short term because they, unlike the authentic intellectual men and women, politicians know the fine art of reducing a complex issue to a couple of mere slogans and delivering them with even a finer art of mob-oratory.
In the early days of post-Independent Ceylon’s political field, SWRD Bandaranaike singularly dominated this field. His great ability to engage his gullible electorate in the same wavelength and then extract their support for the cause that he was purported to have championed was unique. His understanding of the then electorate and attack at its core values generated enormous results. But those successes were essentially short-lived. After propping up the Maha Sanga as the driving force of the modern-day Sri Lanka, he himself became a pathetic victim of that same force.
Bandaranaike never ever tried to communicate either freedom or discipline. His manner of governance emanated the wrong signals of freedom and lacked basic discipline. His unwillingness to pay any attention to the alleged illicit relationship between a Buddhist Monk of repute and a Cabinet Minister of the fairer sex was sufficient evidence of this lack of attention resulting in a breakdown in Ministerial discipline.
But today’s scenario is different. The war victory against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE) had a decisive effect on the mindset of all Lankans, Sinhalese as well as Tamils. The forces Bandaranaike unleashed gained new legitimacy and validity. Yet those who presided over that victory began raping the country, the Rajapaksas, came in for a humiliating defeat at the hands of a well-coordinated election campaign in 2015. The complexities of liberty and discipline emerged and they were, though not addressed in depth and detail, highlighted by the men and women who argued the validity of liberty as a fundamental right of all citizenry of the country.
The people at large saw the rise of a phony patriotism; they beheld the cruel aspects of a regime that was instrumental in enjoying freedom among themselves while imposing so-called discipline on the citizenry of the country. The transparent phoniness of the rulers surfaced thanks to some extremely vocal and eloquent illustrations by the speakers of the national coalition organized to oust the corrupt Rajapaksas.
This is the fundamental issue today: when the Rajapaksas were in power how did they exercise freedom and discipline? It is only in that unforgiving context that we need to analyze the current call for discipline over freedom so promulgated by one of the Rajapaksa brothers (in fact by the one who has been alleged to have been engaged in cruel and unkind acts of dictatorial conduct). What was the discipline exercised when Lasantha Wickrematunge, the then editor of Sunday Leader newspaper, was brutally murdered in broad daylight by four bikers? What was the discipline so exercised when Prageeth Ekneligoda was abducted? What was the discipline when dozens of other journalists were abducted, manhandled and killed by the forces who reported exclusively to the then Secretary of Defense who happened to the one who is now trying to determine that discipline over freedom matters more than anything else?
What was the discipline exercised when Rathupaswala murder was committed by the Sri Lanka Army? What discipline was present during the massacre of the prisoners in 2014? These questions demand answers. They simply cannot be thrown into the dustbin in the name of discipline. This convoluted practice of discipline for ‘them’ and freedom for ‘us’ needed to be stopped and it actually did stop. That was on January 8, 2015. The most chaotic society with freedom is any day better than a band of cruel and disciplined murderers.
Let us not be deceived again. Freedom has no price. It cannot be bartered away for a mere satisfaction of lust for power and a sense of apathy. In fact, apathy is the greatest enemy of freedom. Highly motivated media personnel who have opted to barter away their freedom for king-making ambitions too need to be exposed to the fullest degree possible. In the winding journey of human drama, many actors and artistes choose to play different and enchanting roles. In that drama, those who deliberately choose to be apathetic become the greatest villains of liberty and freedom. Enunciation of high-sounding slogans would not matter in this greatest Act of the human drama. Those villains have to be brought before justice and fair-play; in this exercise, the need for due process is indispensable. The law of the country, the constitution from which cascade the basic legal norms and rights and legitimate privileges of office, need to be upheld above all else.
This is a very difficult task even for a great people, leave alone for an apathetic few. From Buddha to Einstein, all religious leaders and great scientists and men and women of letters have attempted to bring forth the priceless nature of man. A nature that would endure despite gruesome attack on itself from within or without would survive till the end of time. The essential spirit of man is to set itself free. Then discipline will follow. Ill-educated and lusty men of power might opt to place discipline before freedom; they may even try to destroy such freedoms enjoyed by their fellow men and try to set up exclusively destructive governing apparatuses whose solitary objective is to protect and serve the men and women in power. This is the dynamic that is drawing the greedy men to power.
In order to maintain a dynamic equilibrium between freedom and discipline one has to be extraordinarily attentive and focused; one needs to be learned and sensitive to the mundane needs and his fellow men. Yet he has to be, at all times, mindful that freedom takes priority when all the chips are down and all other options have been ruled out and done.
The inglorious garb of those leaders needs to be torn away and the naked nature of those who profess discipline above freedom must stand the test of discipline themselves. Any day, a free and liberated but undisciplined mind is better than a disciplined slave.
The writer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org